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Posted on November 9, 2011 by Grant Skinner
By now, you’ve likely heard that Adobe has ceased development of the Flash Player for mobile browsers. It’s hard to miss – it has whipped the usual rabble of ill-informed techno-zealots into a screaming mass of vindictive idiocy. Sadly, this frenzy is being led by sensational headlines in the media, and snarky, self-congratulatory posts by leading tech pundits.
I don’t think I will ever understand the joy that apparently comes from dancing on the grave of a dead technology. One less technology means one less choice, and one less branch from which new innovation can spring.
And let’s be honest. A LOT of innovation has sprung from Flash. It opened a whole new class of web experience, birthed online casual gaming, defined rich UI, and heavily influenced many of the features that comprise HTML5.
Yes, Flash is proprietary, but that allows it to be agile. Yes, there’s an abundance of truly horrible Flash content out there, but that’s more a testament to its ease of use than its failings as a technology. I guarantee that if creating HTML5 content ever becomes as simple as with Flash, you will see a plethora of horrible HTML5 content (though hopefully some lessons will not be forgotten – RIP Skip Intro).
Flash is deeply flawed, but so is every technology. Hating it is popular, but seems to be based less on any rational analysis, and more on a self-sustaining anti-fanboism, and the sheep-like re-bleating of Jobs’ proclamations.
See, Steve Jobs was right. But then he was wrong. Very wrong.
As an iPhone user, I was initially in full agreement that Flash had no place on my phone. Flash Lite was crap, and there was no evidence that the full player could be made to run well on a device. I also didn’t have a burning need to view Flash content on my phone.
Then two things happened that shifted my thinking.
First, Adobe (eventually) proved that the Player could be viable on mobile with the Android plugin. They also made it optional. In my mind, that was ideal. It gave people a choice. I could choose not to enable Flash, or I could choose to only enable SWFs that I wanted to view. It seemed like the perfect compromise, and made me wish I had the same choice in iOS.
Unfortunately, Steve wasn’t known for compromise, so rather than either embrace this proven approach or simply maintain the status quo, he chose to lash out. His famous open letter on Flash was a mix of half-truths, hypocritical misdirection, and outright lies. I lost a lot of respect for Mr. Jobs that day. Withholding a choice from users to maintain a “perfect vision” is classic Jobs, but engaging in FUD wasn’t.
His biography indicates that this act was driven not by evaluating what was best for users, but rather by a personal vendetta against Adobe for past slights.
Regardless of his motive, it worked incredibly well. Companies cancelled or froze Flash projects while they waited for the dust to settle. Flash lost a ton of momentum, despite there being no viable replacement yet. Without iOS, Flash’s “write once, deploy anywhere” story became a lot weaker.
Given this climate, I think Adobe made the right choice in killing off mobile Flash. The mobile player requires a huge ongoing investment to support new devices and OSes, an investment that has no (obvious) financial benefit for Adobe.
Further, the type of content that Flash enables doesn’t make a ton of sense on the mobile web. People use their browsers for quick look-ups and fall back to apps for rich content. This will change over time, but the reality is that virtually no one is creating mobile version of Flash content for the web, there simply wasn’t enough demand to justify the expense, especially without iOS support.
If this decision allows Adobe to focus on increasing innovation in the desktop player, significantly improving their app packagers, and investing heavily in HTML5 tooling, it’s got my vote.
Jobs was right, but he was right for the wrong reasons.
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